Orton, Arthur (DNB01)
ORTON, ARTHUR (1834–1898), the Tichborne claimant, born at Wapping in 1834, was the twelfth and youngest child of George Orton, a butcher there. At the age of fifteen he was sent to sea, and, having deserted at Valparaiso, made his way up country to Melipilla, where he remained for eighteen months, receiving much kindness from a family named Castro. In 1851 he was back in England, and, entering his father's business, became an expert slaughterman. In November 1852 he emigrated to Australia, and after March 1854 ceased to correspond with his family.
In the spring of 1866 it was rumoured that Roger Tichborne, the eldest son of Sir James Francis Doughty Tichborne, tenth baronet (d. 11 June 1862), who was believed to have been drowned at sea, had been discovered in Australia. The Tichbornes were a Hampshire Roman catholic family of great wealth. Sir James Doughty Tichborne, by his marriage with Henriette Félicité, the daughter of Henry Seymour of Knoyle, had, besides his elder son Roger Charles, who was born on 5 Jan. 1829, the younger son Alfred Joseph, who succeeded his father as eleventh baronet in 1862 and died in February 1866, leaving a posthumous heir, Sir Henry, the twelfth baronet. The elder son, Roger, spent his early years with his parents at Paris, proceeded to Stonyhurst, and finally obtained a commission in the 6th dragoon guards (the Carabineers). He sold out in 1852, after three years' service, and went to South America for sport and travel. In 1854 he embarked at Rio in the Bella, a ship which was never again heard of; but the discovery of her long boat and other articles of wreckage left no doubt she had foundered with all hands, and in July 1855 Roger's will was proved. Alone among the family his mother persisted in believing that he was not dead, and in inserting advertisements for him in the English and colonial papers.
In November 1865 she learnt through an agency in Sydney that a man answering the description of her son had been found at Wagga Wagga in Queensland. A long correspondence ensued, the tone and substance of which ought to have put her on her guard; but with an eagerness bordering on insanity she had made up her mind, before seeing a line of his handwriting or learning a single particular of his life, that her correspondent was her son. In accordance with her repeated entreaties he was induced to leave Australia, and he arrived in London on Christmas day 1866.
Of the identity of this claimant with Arthur Orton there is no doubt. At Wagga Wagga he bore the name of Tom Castro, borrowed from his South American benefactors, and he had passed the twelve previous years in humble positions, acting as stockman, mail-rider, and in all probability bushranger and horse-thief. He was now carrying on a small butcher's business, and was just married to an illiterate servant girl. The difficulties in the way of his claim were so enormous that in all probability he was only driven to England by the fact that he had raised large sums in Australia on his expectations. His idea, apparently, was to obtain some sort of recognition from Lady Tichborne and to return to Sydney with what money he could collect.
After paying a flying visit to Tichborne House—he had never before been in Hampshire in his life—the claimant met the dowager in Paris. She professed to recognise him at their first meeting, which took place in his hotel bedroom on a dark January afternoon. Unsatisfactory as this identification was, she never departed from her belief. She lived under the same roof with him for weeks at a time, accepted his wife and children, and allowed him 1,000l. a year. Her recognition was not followed by any of the rest of the family, who declared unanimously that the claimant was an impostor, and that he failed to recognise them or to recall any incident in Roger's life.
On the other hand, the claimant secured important allies in the old family solicitor, Mr. Hopkins, and a Winchester antiquary named Baigent, who was intimately acquainted with the Tichborne family history. This had a powerful effect in Hampshire. A large number of the county gentry became converts, while the villagers hailed the return of one of the old stock. Starting with a faint glimmering of knowledge acquired from Bogle, the old negro servant of a former baronet, who had accompanied him from Sydney, and aided by a most tenacious memory, the claimant succeeded in eliciting isolated facts which he used with startling effect. He took into his employment a couple of old carabineers, who had been servants to Roger Tichborne, and in a short time he was so completely master of small details of regimental life that more than a dozen of Roger's brother officers and an unlimited number of private soldiers were convinced of the claimant's identity.
Bills were filed in chancery against the trustees of the Tichborne estates, and in June 1868 an issue was directed to be tried in the common pleas as to whether the claimant was the heir of Sir James Tichborne. Previously to this, however, he had been cross-examined on one of his affidavits, and had committed himself to a large number of facts. He had described his rescue from the Bella's boat by a ship called the Osprey, and, aided by Roger's diaries and letters, which had been preserved by Lady Tichborne, had transferred to the former a good many of his own wanderings and adventures.
Meanwhile the trustees learnt that it was freely asserted in Australia that Tom Castro originally bore the name of Orton, and their attention was directed to Wapping, whither it was discovered t hat the claimant had repaired on the first night of his arrival in England. The parents were dead, but he had made inquiries after the surviving members of the family. During his absence from England to attend an inquiry in South America for the purpose of testing the alleged visit to Melipilla, Charles Orton declared to the trustees that the claimant was his brother Arthur, and had ever since his return kept up close relations with himself and his sisters.
In consequence of this and of the Melipilla inquiry establishing the fact that Roger had never been there, but that Arthur Orton had, the claimant's solicitor and a large number of his supporters withdrew from the case. The claimant was penniless and owed huge sums. Lady Tichborne had died in April 1868, and Mr. Hopkins was also dead. Left to himself, he might have thrown up the attempt ; but behind him were a number of creditors. Fresh sums were obtained by the issue of 'Tichborne Bonds,' and eventually, after a long delay to take evidence in Australia, his ejectment action against the trustees of the Tichborne estate came on before Chief-justice Bovill and a special jury.
The trial of this action lasted for 102 days, between 11 May 1871 and 5 March 1872. Serjeant Ballantine led for the claimant, Sir John (afterwards Lord chief-justice) Coleridge [q. v. Suppl.] and Mr. Hawkins, Q.C. (afterwards Sir Henry Hawkins, Lord Brampton), for the trustees. The claimant himself was not put in the box until something like forty of his witnesses had been called. His cross-examination at the hands of Sir John Coleridge lasted twenty-two days, and was remarkable alike for the colossal ignorance displayed by him and for the acuteness and bulldog tenacity with which he faced the ordeal. To quote Sir John's own words : 'Did you ever see a more clever man, more ready, more astute, or with more ability in dealing with information and making use of the slightest hint dropped by cross-examining counsel?' His deficiencies are summed up by the same authority : 'The first sixteen years of his life he had absolutely forgotten; the few facts he had told the jury were already proved, or would hereafter be shown, to be absolutely false and fabricated. Of his college life he could recollect nothing. . . . About his amusements, his books, his music, his games, he could tell nothing. Not a word of his family, of the people with whom he lived, their habits, their persons, their very names.' 'When he reappears in 1865 he has undergone a physical and a moral miracle : a slight, delicate, undersized youth has developed into an enormous mass of flesh.'
Indeed, this physical discrepancy is one of the most remarkable features of the whole imposture. Roger Tichborne had been slight and delicate with narrow sloping shoulders, a long narrow face, and thin straight dark hair. The claimant, though about the same height, was of enormous bulk, scaling over twenty-four stone, big-framed and burly, with a large round face and abundance of fair and rather wavy hair. There can be little doubt that he did present points of resemblance to several male members of the Tichborne family, but, curiously enough, Roger was described by the witnesses as a bad-looking copy of his beautiful French mother, and utterly unlike the Tichbornes. Moreover, Roger, born and educated in France, spoke and wrote French like a native ; the claimant did notknow a word of French. Roger's English correspondence was often ungrammatical, with traces of foreign idiom; the claimant's letters were monuments of vulgar illiteracy ; yet there were strange coincidences both in spelling and expression.
Over one hundred persons swore to the claimant's identity ; they were drawn from every class and with few exceptions were perfectly genuine in their belief, though the most influential and respectable of them were called prior to the claimant's cross-examination. It was not until Sir John Coleridge, in a speech of unparalleled length, laid bare the whole conspiracy and placed the inception of the fraud before the world, that the result ceased to be doubtful. Up till then educated and legal society had been evenly divided. The first witness called for the defendant trustees swore to having tattooed Roger at Stonyhurst, whereas the claimant had denied having been tattooed and his arm showed no marks. After several members of the Tichborne and Seymour families had been in the box, the jury declared that they required no further evidence, on which Serjeant Ballantine elected to be non-suited (5 March 1872).
The chief-justice, Bovill, ordered the immediate arrest of the claimant for perjury, and he was detained in Newgate until bail for 10,000l. was forthcoming ; but he was not brought to trial until April 1873. The trial took place at bar before Chief-justice Cockburn and Justices Mellor and Lush, Mr. Hawkins leading for the crown, and the claimant being represented by Edward Vaughan Hyde Kenealy [q. v.l An enormous mass of evidence was called on both sides, but the better-class witnesses, including nearly all Roger's brother officers, had forsaken the claimant. The Orton part of the case was now for the first time gone into, and there was a vast amount of cross-swearing, but the testimony of Arthur's for- mer sweetheart and the refusal of Kenealy to put the Orton sisters into the box were fatal to the claimant. Kenealy's mismanagement of the case, his altercations with the bench, and the fatal policy of attempting to establish the claimant's identity instead of leaving the prosecution to prove their case, destroyed all chance of acquittal. On 28 Feb. 1874, the 188th day of the trial, the jury after half an hour's deliberation found that the claimant was Arthur Orton, and he was sentenced to fourteen years' penal servitude.
The verdict and sentence caused enormous excitement in the country among the half-educated classes who had subscribed largely to the defence, and who were assured that the prosecution was the outcome of a conspiracy fomented by the Jesuits. An agitation spread through the country which at one time threatened to become dangerous. Kenealy, disbarred for his flagrant breaches of professional etiquette, was returned to parliament in order to advocate the claimant's cause, and on 23 April 1875 he moved in the House of Commons to refer the conduct of the trial and the guilt or innocence of the prisoner to a royal commission. The motion was rejected by 433 votes to 1, and the agitation gradually subsided.
Orton, whose conduct in prison had been exemplary, was released in 1884. All practical interest in the case had died away, and his efforts to resuscitate it ended in ridicule. He survived for fourteen years, gradually sinking into poverty, and he died in obscure lodgings in Marylebone on 2 April 1898.
In 1895 he had published in the 'People' newspaper a signed confession in which were described the inception of the fraud and the means by which it was carried into effect.
He is said to have afterwards recanted, and the name engraved on his coffin was 'Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne.' The possibility of the claimant having been Roger Tichborne has been long since abandoned by all sane persons, but there are still some who maintain that he was an illegitimate member of the Tichborne family. Of this theory no proof has ever been adduced, and the facts elicited at the two trials render the identity of the claimant with Arthur Orton as clear as a proposition in Euclid. The resistance of his claim cost the Tichborne estates 90,000l., and the cost of the trial at bar was not less.
[There is no complete report of the ejectment action; the printed shorthand notes only contain the cross-examination of the claimant and the speech of Sir John Coleridge; the rest of the proceedings are to be found in the newspapers of the date. The complete shorthand notes of the criminal trial have been printed. See also the summing-up of the Lord Chief Justice, revised by himself; The Trial at Bar of Sir Roger Tichborne, edited by Dr. Kenealy; Famous Trials, ed. J. B. Atlay, 1899; Reminiscences of Serjeant Ballantine; Life of Lord Bowen, by Sir H. Cunningham; 'People' for June and July 1895; Annual Register, 1871-1874; and Law Reports, 6 App. Ca. 229.]